Return to the Assembly

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Return to the Assembly

The results of a survey on the Sewol crisis explicitly show where public opinion is heading. Those who oppose protest rallies by the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy and want economy-related bills to be promptly dealt with by the National Assembly were twice as many as those who thought otherwise. In other words, an absolute majority of people want a legislature that functions normally. That’s nothing new; the opposition suffered a crushing defeat in the July 30 by-elections after trying to gain political points from the nation’s worst maritime disaster. People voted for a reasonable resolution of the man-made tragedy and also for economic recovery and reforms to be led by the legislature.

Such hostile public sentiment is apparently having an impact. Kim Young-oh, the father of a student victim of the Sewol tragedy, ended his 46-day hunger strike yesterday. The opposition’s former presidential candidate Moon Jae-in also ended his sympathy strike. Despite the vow of the victims’ relatives to continue a hunger strike, the vehement strife is losing steam. Voices against the parliamentary boycott among opposition lawmakers are also growing louder. Former floor leader Park Jie-won joined the chorus through tweets along with 15 opposition lawmakers who protested the party leadership’s decision to walk off the job.

A serious problem with the NPAD is its knee-jerk reaction to a small group of hardliners. Hwang Ju-hong, one of the 15 brave lawmakers who protested the party leadership’s boycott of the legislature, said that reforming the NPAD seems more difficult than reforming the nation.

But public disagreement with the party’s leadership is nearly impossible due to the worry that it will backfire at nomination time for the 2016 general elections.

In advanced democracies, there are some success stories of party transformations. Tony Blair took initiative in reforming the liberal Labor Party while serving as British prime minister for a decade. He boldly chose a “Third Way” to liberate liberal politics from an outmoded ideological framework.

When opposition parties rush to protest, the legislature is paralyzed. The deadline for settling the government’s 2013 accounts falls on August 31. As a result of the opposition’s boycott of the Assembly plenary session, however, settling the accounts and launching a legislative probe of the Sewol sinking are all stuck in limbo. Even when a plenary session is convened on Sept. 1, a multitude of bills linked to the economy can hardly be passed.

The NPAD must return to the legislature. It must start doing its duty. Then the party must have a deep soul searching - just like Tony Blair did over a decade ago - to find effective ways to help the working class. That’s the only way for the opposition to survive.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 29, Page 34

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